Liver disease is the fifth most common cause of death in the UK but gets very little attention in terms of public awareness or government investment. This is a health problem with multiple causes – drinking alcohol beyond recommended limits, being obese, eating a high fat diet and contracting hepatitis.
The lifestyle risks are those that impact all of us. People in the UK are generally becoming more overweight and obesity is rising. Non-alcoholic liver disease now accounts for one third of all cases of liver disease, causing around 4,000 deaths each year.
Alcohol consumption can easily reach dangerous levels, without people realising. Alcoholic liver disease can occur in people more prone to liver damage if they drink every day and just over the recommended limits. You don’t have to be an alcoholic for years for your liver to develop fibrosis.
Preventing liver damage
The report highlights the lack of resources within the NHS to prevent liver disease or to detect changes in the liver early one, when treatment can still be effective. MPs have called for changes in alcohol pricing, putting wine beer and spirits up to reflect a price of at least £0.50 per unit of alcohol.
Raising public awareness and running programmes to encourage a healthier lifestyle will also be important. However, many of the initiatives that have already been tried don’t really convince people, so the rates of obesity and alcohol consumption are still at worryingly high levels.
Detecting silent liver problems
At The Physician’s Clinic, consultants within the Gastroenterology and Hepatology team offer focused diagnostic tests to assess your liver health. Liver damage, no matter what the cause, produces symptoms only when liver damage is severe and advanced. The early identification of liver problems allows an excellent opportunity to reverse or prevent liver damage.
Blood tests are a good indicator. A range of baseline liver tests may be used to both assess the presence of any inflammation or damage to the liver, and also the likely cause. However, basic liver tests provide an inexact assessment. Some people have liver damage yet their basic liver blood tests are normal, while others have abnormal results but the liver turns out to be healthy.
FIbroscan technology means non-invasive liver checks
Additional tests may be required to more accurately assess the health of the liver, including the degree of fibrosis (scarring). Until recently, the only way of providing information on the degree of fibrosis was by means of a liver biopsy, but this is an invasive test which carries a risk of complications. Results may not be available for a week. Fibroscanning is a new, non-invasive ultrasound method of finding out if the liver contains any fibrosis. It is a safe, entirely risk free investigation, that provides information on the presence of fibrosis within minutes..
Dr George Webster, Consultant Gastroenterologist and Hepatologist comments: ”The difficult issue with liver problems is that if we wait for symptoms to develop liver damage is often at an advanced phase. Many of us are at risk of liver disease, whether due to a less-than-perfect diet, obesity, or alcohol. The use of medications, undiagnosed viral hepatitis, or certain inherited conditions, may also be important. Basic liver blood tests provide only part of the story. A range of non-invasive outpatient investigations, all available through The Physician’s Clinic, may provide vital information, often leading to targeted lifestyle advice, and reassurance”